For young people in foster care, their 21st birthday offers little cause for celebration. That’s when they must leave New York City’s foster care system, often with nowhere to live and little help from supportive adults.
“Kids aging out have tremendous potential, but without the right support, many become homeless, involved with the criminal justice system, and have poor educational and employment outcomes,” says Natasha Lifton, senior program officer for human services at The Trust. “This isn’t true just in New York City; it’s true across the country. The good news is we know what these young people need to succeed.”
At Graham Windham’s Graham SLAM program, Sheniqua Roberts got what she needed. Homeless after foster care, Sheniqua entered the program at age 24. Her coach helped her resolve debt, get academic help, apply to college, set goals, and find housing through the ACS/CUNY Dorm Project for foster youth—and even helped her move in. They visit and talk regularly.
“Growing up in foster care since I was about 10, it’s very disconnected. You have a lot of people handling you as a case and not a person,” says Roberts, who now attends the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “To have someone speak for me, support me, and defend me is something that I’ve never really had in foster care. SLAM is all of that for me.” The Trust’s recent grant of $125,000 will help hundreds more young people participate in the program.
“By age 21, 92 percent of our Graham SLAM participants have graduated from high school. That has enormous impact on their lives and on their economic prospects,” says Jess Dannhauser, Graham Windham president and CEO. By comparison, citywide, only 22 percent of young people aging out of foster care have graduated from high school.
HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services also received $160,000 to add coaches and in-home tutoring for middle and high school students in foster care, who receive stipends and help enrolling in college or a vocational program.
Though The Trust funds great programs like these at several foster care agencies, they reach only 12 percent of those who could benefit. To make sure more people benefit from the programs, The Trust and a group of funders formed the Foster Care Excellence Fund to expand this model citywide. These funders include the Ira W. DeCamp Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Redlich Horwitz Foundation, The New York Community Trust, Tiger Foundation, and Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The Trust’s $250,000 grant to the Fund will develop tools to improve results at all 27 foster care agencies in the City and fund the Fair Futures Campaign. The campaign, made up of child welfare agencies, nonprofits, foundations, and a youth advisory board, is advocating for $50 million in City funding to expand these services to all foster kids in care up to age 26. With this funding boost, we can get closer to helping 100 percent of the young New Yorkers who need it.
IMPROVING FOSTER CHILDREN’S LITERACY SKILLS
Children from homes that build language and literacy skills are more likely to read at grade-level by the end of third grade, a predictor of academic success. But many children in foster care have reading delays that are further hampered by trauma and frequent changes in home and school.
The Trust is giving $150,000 to JCCA (formerly Jewish Child Care Association of New York) to help 60 foster care children from kindergarten through second grade. After being evaluated, one-third of the children will be tutored at home twice a week for 14 weeks. Program staff will meet with the children’s teachers, advocate for special education, if needed, and share findings with the City’s Department of Education. Workshops will be offered for parents, foster parents, and other caregivers to encourage reading at home.